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Jewish students avoid campus, leave Adelaide University due to antisemitic culture

Jasmine Beinart
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Published: 6 December 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

JASMINE BEINART reports on the hostile environment facing Jewish students on the South Australian campus.

The University of Adelaide was in the headlines recently when On Dit, the university’s student magazine, published an article calling for  “Death to Israel.”

But this case is only the tip of the iceberg. It reflects a pattern of behaviour that has gone largely unnoticed by the university’s wider community, resulting in Adelaide University becoming one of the most hostile places for Jewish students in Australia.

Some Jewish students will not return to the university next year because of the sense of siege they have experienced. Others report avoiding campus and suffering stress symptoms directly attributable to the abuse they have suffered.

Jewish student Jonathan Iadarola says his experiences of antisemitism at the university have “greatly affected" his life.

“I have had trouble sleeping, have experienced serious anxiety when walking around campus and have tried to avoid being on campus as much as possible this last year,” he said. “I was called a ‘dirty Zionist’ on campus and was targeted by other students who shouted ‘Death to Israel’ around me after I spoke up against it.”

Antisemitism on campus has so affected Jewish student Gracie Tanner that she will not be returning to the university. Tanner said that she “cannot support a university that does not call out antisemitism”.

Other students and staff told The Jewish Independent that they do not identify themselves as Jewish at the university due to fear of being targeted.

I was first a student at Adelaide University between 2010 and 2015. I remember when the topic of the Holocaust came up in a tutorial. A student said, “But surely the Jews did something to deserve it.” Nobody challenged this comment. Even the tutor did not intervene.

On another occasion an associate professor told me I was “brave,” when I gave a presentation about Israeli strategic culture. The implication was that Israel was a no-go subject.

Another time on campus, I declined signing a petition on the war in Iraq. As I walked away, one of the activists said to the other: “She must be a Jew.”

But these experiences paled in comparison to the hostility I felt when I came back to the university this year. I noticed the environment was more hostile than before. I could not even borrow a book without being reminded of the ubiquitous Jew-hatred at the university, finding books vandalised with antisemitic graffiti in the library.

Most obvious was the stream of antisemitic articles published in the student magazine.

 On Dit started 2022 by publishing an article entitled “Israel and its fans are the biggest threat to free speech.” Its author felt emboldened enough to tell Jews what does and does not constitute as antisemitism.

In the next edition, “Gal Gadot is No Wonder Woman” perpetuated the antisemitic tropes that Jews control capitalism and run Hollywood. It seems that as long as the word “Zionist” is used instead of the word “Jew” antisemitic canards are tolerated or welcomed. One example from the article read, “I understand that Zionism is the product of capitalism … Zionism would not survive without capitalism and ergo the struggle against Zionism is the struggle for all.”

While the problems have originated in the student body, the University has failed to act to ensure a safe environment for Jewish students.

In April, another On Dit article concluded with the words: “Glory to the Intifada. InshAllah it will be merciless.”

It is this environment in which the culture festered to the point where people on campus felt it was fine to call for “Death to Israel.”

That On Dit article created sufficient storm for a Student Representative Council meeting to discuss the issue. Ultimately, the Editor was removed, not because there was deemed to be anything wrong with the article but because of her abuse of Jewish students in the meeting.

But the process did not leave Jewish students feeling safe. We were laughed at and taunted for raising our concerns. The meeting was run inequitably, with Jewish students given time constraints while other students were allowed to speak freely.  Students online mocked Jewish students with remarks that listening to them was “sickening” and that “these people should have no place in civil society”.

The toll this has taken on Jews at the university has been steep, especially in the context of a rise in extremist ideologies and antisemitism since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the problems have originated in the student body, the university has failed to ensure a safe environment for Jewish students.

I approached Student Care about the antisemitic environment in May this year. I was told that I was “more sensitive than non-Jewish students” and that any antisemitism at the university was a result of “ignorance and not hatred”.

When Grace Tanner raised her concerns with the university administration, an official suggested she “take a walk on the beach to clear [her] mind.”

 “The current administration is either unable or unwilling to take a strong stance against antisemitism. I would rather not give money to such an institution,” Tanner says.

The university’s apparent reluctance to decisively deal with the problem has contributed to students continuing to feel unsafe and avoiding campus.

Our initial request to meet with the Vice Chancellor was brushed off with a generic copy-and-paste email. I made complaints to Student Affairs in September, but my file was closed without any guarantee of outcomes. When we finally did get to meet with university leadership, they indicated the issue would be addressed within cultural awareness training.

The university has made no public statement condemning this year’s events or supporting Jewish students.

This has sent the message to Jewish students, and the wider Jewish community, that they have tacitly accepted the antisemitism on campus as well as the incitement of violence against Jews and Israelis.

Jewish international student Daniel Garcia Zapata feels that the university has treated antisemitism as “second-class racism.”

“I wonder how macro does aggression against Jews and Israelis have to get to be seen as aggression?” Garcia Zapata said.

 A University of Adelaide spokesperson responded to a request from The Jewish Independent for comment, stating that the university “completely rejects the use of violence or threat of violence in action or language.”

“This extends to all individuals and groups. The university deplores religious and racial discrimination including antisemitism. Such behaviour is reprehensible wherever it occurs, and we condemn it.

“We recognise that this is a very important issue and we are taking action to ensure that effective support and services are in place. We are committed to a collaborative approach, working together with Jewish staff and students, and groups such as the National Jewish Student’s Association (sic), to make certain the university’s Jewish community feels safe, respected and valued.”

Photo: Adelaide University (promotional image)

About the author

Jasmine Beinart

Jasmine Beinart is a PhD Candidate at the University of Adelaide researching antisemitism in Australia. She holds a MA in Holocaust Studies from the University of Haifa and has worked at the Melbourne and Adelaide Holocaust museums.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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